Silver Machine

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"Silver Machine"
Single by Hawkwind
B-side Seven By Seven
Released 9 June 1972
Format 7" Vinyl record
Recorded 13 February 1972
Genre Space rock
Length 4:39
Label United Artists Records
Writer(s) R.Calvert/Dave Brock
Producer(s) Dr Technical
Hawkwind singles chronology
"Hurry on Sundown"
(1970)
"Silver Machine"
(1972)
"Urban Guerrilla"
(1973)

"Silver Machine" is a 1972 song by the UK rock group Hawkwind. It was originally released as a single on 9 June 1972, reaching No. 3 on the UK singles chart. The single was re-issued in 1976, again in 1978 reaching No. 34 on the UK singles charts, and once again in 1983 reaching No. 67 on the UK singles charts. The original mix has been re-released on the remasters version of X in Search of Space.

The single[edit]

28 seconds (of 4:39)

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"Silver Machine" was recorded live at a Greasy Truckers benefit gig at The Roundhouse, London on 13 February 1972 and this version was released on the Various Artists compilation album Glastonbury Fayre and the 2007 box set of Greasy Truckers Party. Overdubs were applied and mixing took place at Morgan Studios with Douglas Smith and Dave Robinson overseeing the process. Dave Brock took production credits using an alias of Dr Technical. The sleeve was designed by Barney Bubbles (uncredited).

Personnel[edit]

Music[edit]

The music was composed by Dave Brock who used his then wife Sylvia Macmanus' maiden name for credits to put pressure on his publishing company to improve his deal.[1] The verse is an 8-bar Rock and Roll boogie whose riff is an adaption of the standard riff that can be heard on the likes of Johnny and the Hurricanes' "Red River Rock" (About this sound sample ).

[The Greasy Truckers] was about my third gig, and I didn't know what I was doing. I hadn't done any rehearsals and I thought that Silver Machine was a Chuck Berry number – really. – Simon King[2]

Vocals and lyrics[edit]

The lyrics were written by Robert Calvert and he sang the lead vocal on the original live recording. However, the vocals were considered too weak (About this sound sample ) for the single release so they were re-recorded in the studio. Calvert, who suffered from bi-polar disorder, had been sectioned at the time so was unavailable to attempt another version, and the lead vocals were eventually recorded by Lemmy:

[Calvert's] vocal was fucking hopeless, but he never realised it. That's how mad he was. It sounded like Captain Kirk reading 'Blowing in the Wind'. They tried everybody singing it except me. Then, as a last shot, Douglas said, 'Try Lemmy'. And I did it in one take or two.[3]

Lemmy just had the best voice for it. Of course, Bob was not pleased when he found out. – Douglas Smith[4]

The lyrics are a send-up of space travel, inspired by the Alfred Jarry essay How to Construct a Time Machine which Calvert interpreted as a description of how to build a bicycle:

I read this essay by Alfred Jarrey called, "How to Construct a Time Machine", and I noticed something which I don't think anyone else has thought of because I've never seen any criticism of the piece to suggest this. I seemed to suss out immediately that what he was describing was his bicycle. He did have that turn of mind. He was the kind of bloke who'd think it was a good joke to write this very informed sounding piece, full of really good physics (and it has got some proper physics in it), describing how to build a time machine, which is actually about how to build a bicycle, buried under this smoke-screen of physics that sounds authentic. Jarrey got into doing this thing called 'Petaphysics', which is a sort of French joke science. A lot of notable French intellectuals formed an academy around the basic idea of coming up with theories to explain the exceptions to the Laws of the Universe, people like Ionesco the playwright. The College of Metaphysics. I thought it was a great idea for a song. At that time there were a lot of songs about space travel, and it was the time when NASA was actually, really doing it. They'd put a man on the moon and were planning to put parking lots and hamburger stalls and everything up there. I thought that it was about time to come up with a song that actually sent this all up, which was 'Silver Machine'. 'Silver Machine' was just to say, I've got a silver bicycle, and nobody got it. I didn't think they would. I thought that what they would think we were singing about some sort of cosmic space travel machine. I did actually have a silver racing bike when I was a boy. I've got one now, in fact. – Robert Calvert[5]

Top of the Pops[edit]

Hawkwind have very rarely appeared on television, but the success of the single necessitated an appearance on the BBC chart show Top of the Pops. However, the group felt ill at ease at the prospect of miming a performance in front of a studio audience who didn't represent their following, so a compromise was reached with the BBC recording the band performing live at Dunstable Civic Hall on 7 July 1972, this clip being shown with the single version dubbed over it.

Discography[edit]

Year Format Silver Machine Seven By Seven Notes
1972 7" single Original mix – 45UP35381 A-1U Original mix – 45UP35381 B-1U Winged monkey in clockwork sleeve
1976 7" single Roadhawks version – UP35381 Remix – UP35381 (available on Stasis)
1978 7" single Roadhawks version – UP35381 A-4 Space Ritual version – UP35381 B-4 Black Doremi shield on white background
1978 12" single Original mix – 12UP35381 A-1U Remix – 12UP35381 B-2U Silver foil sleeve with embossed Doremi shield
1983 7" single Roadhawks version – UP35381 Space Ritual version – UP35381 White Doremi shield on black background
1983 7" pic disc Roadhawks version – UP35381 A-4 Space Ritual version – UP35381 B-4 White Doremi shield on black background
1983 12" single Original mix – 12UP35381 A-1-1 Remix – 12UP35381 B-1-1 White Doremi shield on black background

Other versions[edit]

BBC sessions[edit]

A version was recorded at Maida Vale Studios, London on 2 August 1972 for broadcast on the Johnnie Walker show on the 14th, "Brainstorm" also being part of the session. These two recordings have subsequently been included on the 2010 EMI release Hawkwind: At the BBC – 1972.[6] The song was also recorded live at the Paris Cinema, London on 28 September 1972 as part of the hour long In Concert series broadcast. This full concert was released in mono in 1991 as BBC Radio 1 Live in Concert, and in mono and stereo in 2010 as Hawkwind: At the BBC – 1972..[6]

On 3 December 2007, Cleopatra Records in the USA issued a limited edition of 500 10" vinyl EPs consisting of both BBC versions of "Silver Machine", the live version as the A-side and the session version as the B-side.

Live versions[edit]

The song has sporadically been played live by the band. Its first reappearance is on the 1980 live album Live Seventy Nine, but it explodes after a minute and is suffixed with "(requiem)" in Brock's attempt at laying the song to rest, sick of having to play their "hit single". Further live versions have been released, most notably a version on the 2002 live album Canterbury Fayre 2001 with vocals by Arthur Brown.

Lemmy continues to make guests appearances with the band when their paths cross. Some live versions of the song on which Lemmy has appeared include The Friday Rock Show Sessions from the Reading Festival 24 August 1986 and Motörhead's Stone Deaf Forever! boxset from Wembley Arena 19 October 2002.

10th anniversary[edit]

"Silver Machine"
Single by Hawkwind
from the album Choose Your Masques
B-side Psychedelic Warlords
Released 27 August 1982
Format 7" Vinyl record
Recorded Rockfield Studios, Summer 1982
Genre Space rock
Label RCA/Active Records
Writer(s) R.Calvert/D.Brock
Producer(s) Pat Moran and Hawkwind
Hawkwind singles chronology
"Angels of Death"
(1981)
"Silver Machine"
(1982)
"The Earth Ritual Preview" EP
(1984)

In 1982 the band recorded a new studio version of the song which received general release on 7" and 7" picture disk by RCA/Active (RCA267, 27 August 1982). The b-side was a 33RPM extended play featuring the full 7:25 version and a new version of "Psychedelic Warlords" with a Huw Lloyd-Langton vocal.

Receiving criticism over the release, Brock defended their actions: "It was only done as a tenth anniversary thing, and wasn't supposed to come out just as a picture disc. That was RCA's decision, and I didn't like it one bit. The only reason we cut it was as a special souvenir."[7]

In addition to the single release, the record company included it on the Choose Your Masques album, leaving Marion Lloyd-Langton to complain: "[Huw and I] actually had three tracks for the Masques album, but RCA insisted that Silver Machine went on, so the third track was dropped; pity about that."[8]

Remixes[edit]

Cover versions[edit]

  • James Last performed a version on his Non Stop Dancing 1973 album. Currently available on James Last: Best Of The 1970s DVD and The James Last Collection boxset.
  • NWOBHM band Vardis recorded a version in 1980.
  • Discharge's guitarist Bones riffles through 8-bars at the beginning of Why (Reprise) on their 1981 hardcore punk mini-album Why?.
  • The Church recorded a version on their covers album A Box of Birds and also have performed the song live regularly – most notably as the second and final encore during their world tour promoting A Box of Birds.
  • 1980's psychedelic revival band Doctor and the Medics recorded a version for single, played the track live and also performed a version on UK television.
  • Sex Pistols opened the set with the track on their 2002 tour. The song used to be an integral part of the Sex Pistols set list up until mid 1976. The song was reintroduced to the set list on the 2008 Harvester Combine tour as an encore.[citation needed]
  • The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain performed a version at their 2005 Festival shows (the Cropredy Festival and GuilFest) Dreamworker. They also did a version (as part of a medley with Ride of the Valkyries) at a BBC Proms concert in August 2009, which was released on their DVD of the concert.
  • Alien Sex Fiend included the song on their 1988 LP Another Planet
  • Jarvis Cocker performed the track at The Roundhouse in December 2006 as a tribute to its place of birth.
  • Skullhead recorded the song and released it on their Victory Or Valhalla and Ragnarok albums.
  • Japanese noise group Hijokaidan included a version of the song on their 1986 LP Tapes.
  • London based folk/rock group Bruise included an acoustic version on their 2004 album 'B' .
  • UK hardcore band Electro Hippies cover the song at their last ever gig recorded for posterity and released as the Live album in 1987 by Peaceville Records.
  • The Mars Volta have covered parts of the song live on their 2008 tour, most notably during Drunkship of Lanterns.
  • German band Die Sterne used parts of the song in their own "Risikobiographie", from the album Posen, 1996.
  • The Japanese hardcore band Struggle For Pride covered "Silver Machine" on their EP Cut Your Throat in 2009.
  • The Indecent cover "Silver Machine" on their album Her Screwed Up Head.
  • William Shatner (with Carmine Appice and Wayne Kramer) covered the song on his 2011 album Seeking Major Tom.
  • Psychic TV have covered the song live.
  • The band Silver Machine from Asheville, NC is said to have derived their name from the song by Hawkwind.

Uses[edit]

Joel Veitch has used it for his Stephen Hawkwind sketch on his Rather Good Videos Channel 4 show.

The song has been used for two different UK television advertising campaigns: Mazda cars in 2000 and Red Square alcopops in 2004 (preview).

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Saga of Hawkwind (pp98-99), Carol Clerk
  2. ^ Sounds, January 1975
  3. ^ The Saga of Hawkwind (pp97-98), Carol Clerk
  4. ^ Mojo, September 1999
  5. ^ Cheesecake No. 5, April 1981
  6. ^ a b esounds. "Hawkwind – Hawkwind: At The BBC – 1972". EMI. Retrieved 17 February 2010. 
  7. ^ Kerrang, 1982 – The Strange Saga of Hawkwind
  8. ^ Orbit 4, June 1983: Huw Lloyd-Langton interview